News and Events

Urban biodiversity: Mulching 101

Patrick Hamel

As many of us spend more time watching our yards grow greener, the temptation to mulch can become unbearable for the unsuspecting homeowner. Adding organic matter to the ground can help to provide nutrients to plants by breaking down over time, preventing weed growth, and retaining humidity. However, adding too much, especially in the shape of a mulch volcano, (thick layer of mulch or dirt laid around a tree and up against the trunk), is detrimental and likely to lead to the slow death of the tree.

Piling mulch (or dirt) against the tree decreases the oxygen available for the roots to grow. This leads to the production of upward-growing roots into the mulch. These are called girdling roots and can sometimes be seen as enlarged roots around the base of trees. Most often, they are hidden just below the surface. As they grow, they strangle the base of the tree, impeding the flow of nutrients and water. A sign of the presence of girdling roots is a tree base that is straight, or even narrower, where it touches the ground, instead of flaring out, and can swell above the girdling roots. Symptoms include small leaves, dieback of branches, poor growth, and abnormal openings in the canopy. It is possible to have an arborist remove these superficial roots; however, it is not always practical, and prevention by appropriate planting and mulching is key to tree health and longevity. Other causes of girdling roots include leaving ropes used to secure the root-ball at the nursery during planting, or planting too deeply or close to a paved surface.

Another consequence of mulch volcanoes is to create a moist environment in the bark, ideal for bacterial and fungal diseases and crown-rot development. Once the decaying bark under the mulch has died, the outer lifeline (cambium) of the tree is exposed, effectively discontinuing the supply of water and nutrients. Pathogens, including borer insects, thrive in humid conditions, accelerating the decline of the tree. Also, above-ground stems need to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide freely. Mulch volcanoes impede these processes (in addition to making it harder for water to reach the roots), leading to tree-tissue stress and weakening.

Another risk of mulch volcanoes is harboring rodents. These are great habitats for these small animals, who may chew at the bark for food, leading to similar issues as discussed above.

Save yourself some time and money, and as a rule, do not apply more than 2 or 3 inches depth (2-in for poorly drained soil) of mulch around your tree, leaving at least an inch gap between the trunk and the mulch. Reapply only when most of the mulch has already decomposed. Remember that these problems do not occur overnight, but may take 3 to 5 years to appear, depending on the extent of the damage, and are very difficult to reverse. It is recommended to consult with an arborist for solutions to these issues.

Sources:

  • https://njaes.rutgers.edu/fs099/
  • https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/over-mulching.shtml
Example of over-mulching

By Patrick Hamel, June 19th 2020

Webmaster’s note: To a question about leaves as mulch, the author reminded us that “leaves or compost can be good mulch option, in moderation. A layer of compost (decomposed organic matter, as stated at the beginning of the article) or leaves is generally beneficial for the tree, as this is what is found in the forest. I’d just make sure it’s not too thick.

Meet and Greet with OSEAN about Eco Actions

On Saturday November 14th at 7 PM, come and meet your neighbours (virtually of course!) who are working to make our local communities even greener.  With all the COVID snacking, let’s do it together!

Ottawa South Eco Action Network (OSEAN) is a group of neighbours from River Ward, Alta Vista and Gloucester South who are dedicated to making our communities more environmentally friendly through local projects and conversations with our councillors and MPPs. The same people who brought you “Pumpkins for Pigs”.

What are ways we as a community can tackle climate change, protect our natural environment, promote sustainable transportation and improve food security?  Grab a beverage or favourite snack and join our Zoom chat to chat about how we can accomplish more, together. 

Please register in advance for this meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEudOGpqTsqE9MptMMcWrDxR-KMIq0j8VWO

Pumpkins for Pigs (Again!)

This year we are hoping to divert even more pumpkins than last year!

Help us rescue pumpkins from the compost this Halloween!

With your help we can divert food waste and bring some tasty, nutritious snacks to some pigs at local farms.

What can you do? 
1) Be a contact-less collection point on Nov 1 for your neighbours (we can send you a sign to print out for your yard or make your own “Pumpkin Drop-off” sign)
2) Deliver pumpkins. If you have a trailer, truck or are willing to use your trunk, offer to deliver pumpkins from these collection points to Mooney’s Bay on Nov 2nd (will message the exact location- but the pumpkins in the front yard will likely be obvious!)
3) Help promote this initiative by sharing, liking, commenting or tweeting it!

And obviously if you are planning to eat the pumpkin yourself, even better!

Email us at osean_email@ottawasouthecoactionnetwork.ca

Check out this article in Capital Current showcasing our Pumpkins for Pigs initiative:

Halloween’s pumpkin problem: Anti-waste advocates urge end to doorstep-landfill horror show.

Comparing Poop Bags

In this blog we compare the compostability of two brands of compostable dog waste bags buried in a typical Ottawa garden. On the left is a Unni 100% compostable bag (www.unni.world) and on the right is a bag from The Original Poop-bags (Poop-bags.com).

Unni 100% Compostable (left) and The Original Poop-bags (right) before use

As can be seen in the photo, the logo for the composting standard ASTM D6400, appears on the Original Poop-bag. The Unni bag shows two standards on the bag, the TÜV AUSTRIA Home S0737 OK compost and the EN 13432. Both bags show the BPI Compostable logo. These standards are all described below.

METHOD: The 2 bags containing dog waste were buried about 3 inches below the surface of a well mulched flower garden 29 November 2019 and then dug up and reburied in April, July and 1 October 2020.

RESULTS: In April 2020, the bags showed very little degradation. In fact, they appeared to be in perfect condition. Sorry, no picture. Just imagine typical poop bags full of, well, poop.

8 MONTHS: As can be seen in the next photo, there is no waste visible in or around either bag, so it seems the dog waste completely decomposed in 8 months. The bags themselves are partially degraded. The Unni bag still has a plastic bag like appearance while The Original Poop-bag resembles a thin withered leaf.

Unni and The Original Poop-bag shown side by side after 8 months

11 MONTHS: There is minimal residual of the Poop-bag while the Unni bag has substantial residual remaining after 11 months.

A Unni bag and The Original Poop-bag shown side by side after 11 months

CONCLUSION: Temperature certainly seemed to be a critical factor as most of the degradation occurred between April and October. It was great to see that both bags showed considerable decomposition, even in our cold climate.

STANDARDS: According to the ASTM.org website regarding the D6400 specification,

1.1 This specification covers plastics and products made from plastics that are designed to be composted under aerobic conditions in municipal and industrial aerobic composting facilities, where thermophilic conditions are achieved.

1.2 This specification is intended to establish the requirements for labeling of materials and products, including packaging made from plastics, as “compostable in aerobic municipal and industrial composting facilities.”

1.3 The properties in this specification are those required to determine if end items (including packaging), which use plastics and polymers as coatings or binders will compost satisfactorily, in large scale aerobic municipal or industrial composting facilities.

Further information about the US standard ASTM D6400 can be found here and here.

According to European Bioplastics, the EN 13432, seen on the Unni bag, is the European standard that requires compostable plastics to disintegrate after 12 weeks and completely biodegrade after six months in industrial or municipal composting facilities which meet temperature, humidity, aeration and time requirements to degrade the waste to stable, sanitized products that can be used in agriculture. 90% is converted to CO2 and the rest is converted to water and biomass.

According to TÜV AUSTRIA (formerly Vinçotte) a product which meets the requirements of the EN 13432 standard may be awarded the Seedling logo seen on the lower left of the Unni bag.

The TÜV AUSTRIA Home OK compost logo, also seen at the bottom of the Unni bag, indicates that certification has been received from TÜV AUSTRIA, a Belgian company authorised by European Bioplastics.

The European Bioplastics website further notes that there are no international standards for home composting of biodegradable plastics, however there are some national standards, including the Australian norm AS 5810, the French standard NF T 510-800 and TÜV AUSTRIA OK compost Home. The latter, as well as the French standard, require at least 90% degradation in 12 months at ambient temperature.

Both bags also display the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) logo (what looks like a fish and a tree). The BPI label BPI Compostable in Industrial Facilities corresponds to the ASTM D6400 standard. The more recent Unni bag clearly indicates that it is BPI certified in industrial composting facilities. On 22 September 2020, this US certifier released their Guidelines for the Labeling and Identification of Compostable Products and Packaging which, if adopted by manufacturers, should go a long way towards reducing contamination of compostable material with non compostable plastics and other waste.

You can find the full description of the Unni bag composting certification on the Unni website.

If anyone has tried a similar experiment, we would love to hear about your observations in the comments.

UPDATE: The Original Poop-bag website displays a box of bags with the TÜV AUSTRIA Home OK compost logo. A cursor-over pop-up states that “these poop bags have an OK compost rating, making them compostable in both homes and commercial facilities.” The picture of the bag does not show this logo. Our observations are consistent with this certification.

Plants for Butterflies and Bees in Ottawa

The David Suzuki Foundation website offers information on planting for pollinators. Here is a list of butterflies and flowering native plants that they recommend for those of us who live in Eastern Canada and want to attract pollinators to our gardens.

Butterfly species native to Eastern Canada:

  • Eastern tiger swallowtail
  • Mourning cloak
  • Red admiral
  • Painted lady
  • Monarch
  • Cabbage white
  • Milbert’s tortoiseshell
  • Silver-spotted skipper
  • Black swallowtail
  • American copper
  • Clouded sulphur

Pollinator-friendly plants native to Eastern Canada:

Nectar plants:

  • New England aster Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
  • Wild strawberry Fragaria virginiana
  • Wild strawberry Fragaria vesca
  • Pearly everlasting Anaphalis margaritacea
  • Yarrow Achillea millefolium
  • Wild columbine Aquilegia canadensis
  • Wild bergamot Monarda fistulosa
  • Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta
  • Anise hyssop Agastache foeniculum
  • Virginia mountain mint Pycnanthemum virginianum
  • Lance leaf coreopsis Coreopsis lanceolata
  • Wild nodding onion Allium cernuum
  • Woodland Sunflower Helianthus divaricatus
  • Evening primrose Oenothera biennis

Host plants:

  • Pearly everlasting Anaphalis margaritacea — American lady
  • Chokecherry Prunus virginiana — swallowtail, hairstreak
  • Pacific ninebark Physocarpus capitatus — tiger swallowtail
  • Nettles Anthocharis sara ssp. gracilis — red admiral, Milbert’s Tortoiseshell
  • Thistles Cirsium — painted ladies
  • Common milkweed Asclepias syriaca — monarch
  • Swamp milkweed Asclepias incarnata — monarch
  • Butterfly milkweed Asclepias tuberosa — monarch
  • Eastern cottonwood Populus deltoides — mourning cloak, viceroy, swallowtail
  • Willow Salix sp. — white admiral, viceroy, swallowtail

Herbs for bees and butterflies:

  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Parsley
  • Oregano
  • Chives
  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Lemon Balm

Butterflyways in Ottawa

Butterflies on purple thistle flowers
Purple thistles

Butterflies and bees are suffering from the effects of pesticides and a lack of habitat and suitable food sources as more and more land is developed and lost. But there are two significant ways you can help.

First, the David Suzuki Foundation is running a Butterflyway project by asking for volunteers to plant native flowering plants that provide nutrients for our important pollinators. The aim is to connect these pollinator patches across North America so that butterflies and other pollinators can find food and healthy environments in their local neighbourhoods or as they migrate to and from their distant wintering grounds. There are 15 Butterflyway Rangers that are leading teams to plant and maintain pollinator patches in Ottawa. They are currently receiving training and looking for volunteers to join their teams. Leave a comment if you are interested in joining a Butterflyway team.

The second way you can help is to contact your city councillor and cc the Mayor, Jim Watson, at the City of Ottawa to ask the Mayor to take the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge. While everyone can participate by planting butterfly friendly flowers, leadership from our Mayor would help our city contribute to the wellbeing of our pollinators over an area many times the size of our own pollinator patches.

Bailouts for the Oil Industry

Hon. David McGuinty, MP                                                                March 25, 2020

Ottawa South

Dear Mr. McGuinty,

I am writing to you regarding a possible bailout for the oil industry in Canada during this period of a health crisis, which is causing a fiscal crisis in turn. As you know, the mining industry is suffering, but mostly it is the workers in that industry that are hurting. It is therefore that we write to you to ask that you support any relief that is available to individuals and not to the industry as a whole. The industry that exploits resources alone is not what Canada needs for its present or its future. As an environmental organization we agree that all actions today must support a sustainable future. 

Sincerly, 

Aija Auzina

Ottawa Reduces / Ottawa Réduit

Ottawa Reduces Logo

Ottawa Reduces is a like-minded “community-based initiative whose goal is to reduce single-use plastic and packaging in Ottawa.” Leur “initiative communautaire a pour but de réduire l’utilisation de plastiques à usage unique et d’emballages à Ottawa.”  Ottawa Reduces / Ottawa Réduit is an initiative to identify local businesses that encourage us to bring our own containers. You can identify participating businesses by the Ottawa Reduces/Ottawa Réduit logo in their windows.

Sowing the Seeds – How to Grow an Eco Club for Youth

Have you ever wanted to help little Eco flowers grow?  Maybe you’re a community member, a parent or grandparent.  Over the years, I’ve belonged to four separate school groups (two of which I began from scratch) in three different cities, and I can easily say that starting a club takes very little effort, and there are loads of great activities to do with kids of all ages.

Ready to sprout some seedlings?  Visit a local primary school where you know the students or staff.  If the school already hosts an Eco club, ask to help out. Facilitators can always use an extra hand.  If a program doesn’t exist, volunteer to be a community leader.  Either option would require a vulnerable sector criminal record check – a prerequisite for anyone working with children in Ontario schools. The good news is the office staff can write you a letter that will get you a discounted rate when you apply. Another great place to encourage young minds is with your local Scouts group.  Leaders are always looking for people to share their Eco expertise.

There is a plethora of ways to engage this age group.  Younger children benefit most from playing outside in nature.  By learning to love the outdoors, they in turn strive to protect it.  Building bird/bee/bat houses, planting a garden, taking nature walks, and visiting local parks are great ways to start.  Inside, play a recycling sorting game, after which students can set up and run a program – and even compost with wiggly worms – in the school.  Another way to get youngsters on board is by creating a group name and motto, as well as making a mascot.  And there are simple activities like waste-free lunches and Lights Out! Fridays that help promote awareness and school-wide participation.

If you’re trying to foster growth in tweens and teens, look no further than your local high school (please note, volunteers here must also have a valid criminal record check on file). Most high schools already have established Eco clubs, but much like their primary counterparts, they would encourage community involvement.  High school clubs are where I’ve always found myself – and let me tell you – we never run out of things to do!  In addition to some of the aforementioned activities, the groups I’ve worked with have built outdoor classrooms with grants from the WWF, planted trees, created a graduation garden, enjoyed nature walks and community clean-ups, applied to become a certified Eco School (see next paragraph), and planned Earth Day activities.  We’ve performed school wide waste audits, run contests where we “Caught (recycling) students green-handed”, hosted documentary lunches, made t-shirts, and set-up tap water vs. bottled water taste tests.

With my current group, we’ve worked on improving recycling in the school by adding bins in strategic locations and setting up clear signage.  We’ve made GOOS (Good on one side) bins that encourage the use of scrap paper, and we’re in the midst of making a recycling station with mascot and ballot box in our front foyer.  We’ve certified our courtyard as a Wildlife Habitat with the CWF, and in doing so practised species identification, built a birdbath out of recycled materials, and dug in the dirt to plant milkweed.  We put on a holiday battery drive (and sold the car batteries brought in for fundraising!), and fostered saplings to reforest local outdoor spaces.  We’ve held a poster making session for the “Fridays for our Future” Climate March, and set up a marching spot by the school. In the future, we plan to educate the student body with a vermiculture compost for our courtyard, and team up with a local volunteer organization that maps fruit trees for harvesting (Hidden Harvest).   

Finally, no matter the age, there is no shortage of online communities that offer lessons, contests and activities.  To certify as an Eco School, visit: https://ecoschools.ca/at the beginning of September.  To participate in activities like Earth Hour, National Sweater Day, or the Polar Bear walk, sign up for WWF’s Living Planet @ School, at: https://schools.wwf.ca/primary/.  For lesson plans and units (endorsed by Environment and Climate Change Canada) that teach about Ocean Health and Plastics, visit Sea Smart’s: https://plasticsedkit.ocean.org/index.html.  And to participate in challenges that may lead to winning prizes, once a year (usually beginning of semester two), Canadian Geographic and Shell team up to present “The Classroom Energy Diet Challenge”. Staples also runs a yearly contest called: “Superpower your school”that awards 10 schools across Canada with twenty thousand dollars in tech to help with their Eco-initiatives.

As you can see, there is a myriad of ways to plant and nurture youth Eco clubs, and to have fun doing it.  So get planting!